Well that was abrupt. Apparently the White House decided that requiring FISA warrants under law doesn’t endager national security after all. Obviously, national security was never really that much of a concern anyway – FISA is very much built to not get in the way of any kind of genuine counter-terrorist operation. My suspicion has always been that the White House simply didn’t want a judge reviewing the wiretapping because many of the people they were spying on were not, in fact, suspected terrorists but instead political enemies.
So this isn’t really an issue of American national security at all. It’s a sign of weakness from the Bush administration – the warrantless wiretapping program was clearly illegal, and now that there’s a Democratic Congress, the White House fears hearings over the program. There’s been a lot of talk about a showdown of that nature going down – the question was always whether or not the administration would even acknowledge congressional authority, or instead merrily continue breaking the law.
That the administration abruptly backed down to avoid hearings confirms that they actually do fear congressional authority. This is promising – it means that Congress might actually be able to force them to cease their various other illegal activities, and maybe even shut down the escalation in time.